Scrapbooks turn the pages of our lives

This column appeared in The Nevada Appeal in 2002, when I was DEEP into scrapbooking. I am no longer. While I still have the huge kit of supplies, I haven’t made a book since the one documenting our granddaughter’s first year. She’s almost ten. I have pretty much decided to scan all the remaining photos. Then I’ll organize them into those lovely little photo books I can assemble from the computer and without the huge mess that actual scrapbooking entails. 

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“Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left of you.”  ~Simon & Garfunkel

My name is Lorie and I am a scrap-aholic. I admit my scrapbook hobby may be getting out of control. I’m also something of a pack-rat, although that’s another, oddly related topic.

The roots of my problem go deep. In the late fifties my mother gave me a large maroon scrapbook with fleur-de-lis adorning the cover. I filled its now crumbling and yellowed pages with black and white class photos of smiling schoolchildren. The names and numbers of some of those children are still in my address book nearly fifty years later. That book lives in the cedar chest with my wedding dress.

In college I made another scrapbook. It includes a photograph of me sitting in on the lawn at Fullerton College, protesting the invasion of Cambodia. It was in that book that I began writing little stream of consciousness notes so that I wouldn’t forget the people and moments that were so important at the time.

Around 1970 I started another kind of scrapbook. I bought one of the first little blank books and began copying quotes from favorite authors, poets, and songwriters. Walt Whitman, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry David Thoreau, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon. That red book is filled with handwritten entries in bright Flare pen colors. I also began entering bad little angst-filled poems and other pieces I’d written. It wasn’t exactly “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but you get the idea. A diary or journal might have contained a complete chronicle of every thought, every feeling. A scrapbook allows some perspective and perhaps a little editing. Maybe even other voices.

Later I included the poem and Bible verse from our wedding and a letter I wrote to our unborn child when I was pregnant. Nearly twenty-five years later that letter opened the scrapbook I made for Joanna. I also recorded a few stories about each girl so that I wouldn’t forget what funny, wondrous, insightful little beings they were.

I guess that is the point of a scrapbook—remembering. But like most people my memory needs a catalyst, a phrase, an object, an image, a fragrance, or a song that sparks a long-dormant memory. That’s probably why I save all the things I do—that pack-rat thing I mentioned before.

Furthermore, significant events need to be framed with words for me. And while spoken words are gone in a flash, writing makes the moment permanent. I try to hold on to the moment, so I can revisit it or share it across time and distance.

Both happy and sad memories are important. One gives perspective to the other. All those experiences and choices brought me to this place. So, if I ever question who I am or how I got here, I have my own personal database.

Evidently millions of others have joined me in this scrapbook obsession. There are support groups meeting all over the country under the guise of scrapbook parties and workshops. There are entire stores dedicated to its products. I admit I own the enormous suitcase full of materials and tools, affectionately known as the “my husband’s going to kill me kit.”  If you’ve been to a scrapbook party, you know what I mean. The kit is filled with an album, extra pages, decorative paper, page protectors, pens, cutting and mounting tools, and way too many stickers. All archival quality, of course, and acid free.

In the last two years I have completed Joanna’s album and the two identical family histories that I gave my father and brother last Christmas. I also compiled a book about my trip to visit New York City after September 11.

Now that I’m working on Katie’s graduation album, I’ve gone back to the little blank book to remind me of her stories. I spent some time rereading and remembering. Look what I found:

“All my life I’ve been a collector of things—theater tickets, wedding napkins, notes passed hand-to-hand in seventh grade English class. Love letters written but never sent. The last flower to bloom in the weed field before it became a parking lot. Things are saved for a special reason and, if you are a collector, you know that you save many things even when you’ve grown away from the reason you saved them. Like old corsages that have become faded and brittle.” 

I told you that the roots of my problem go deep. That paragraph came directly from that old blank book. I wrote it in 1970.

 

 

 

Book report: A kindness to those you leave behind

518O8BPzqEL._SY346_“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.”

This is a dear little book that has been making the rounds among my friends and acquaintances of a certain vintage. Many of us have begun downsizing, distributing, and divesting. My husband and I did so when we moved to a smaller house three years ago. Margareta Magnusson gives gentle tips for making the process easier and more pleasant. Her reasons are simple.

“I have death cleaned so many times for others, I’ll be damned if someone else has to death clean after me.”

“Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish—or be able—to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them.”

She recommends not starting with photographs or papers. Start with furniture and clothing. And invest in a shredder.

“In general, when death cleaning, size really matters. Start with large items in your home and finish with the small.”

“Now that I am the oldest person in my family, if I don’t know the names of the people in the photos, nobody else in the family is likely to. More work for the shredder.”

The best bit of advice is to ask yourself, “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this? If after a moment of reflection I can honestly answer no, then it goes into the hungry shredder, always waiting for paper to chew.”

This is not a sad book. Much of what Magnusson suggests reminds me of the common sense and generosity my family–including my half-Swedish mother–practiced. Share what you have with those who need it. Let your old things start new lives and form new memories with a new family.  It is a gentle, sometimes humorous reminder that someone will have to deal with all our stuff one day. If we love them, we should make it as easy as possible. Recommend.

 

Letting go…

Have you noticed that sometimes the Universe aligns to whisper in your ear or show you a path you hadn’t seen before? It probably happens more often than we know.  Sometimes we’re just not listening.

Last week, my yoga teacher began our practice by reading this poem.

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If you’d like to know more about the poet Rev. Safire Rose and read the entire poem, click here: She Let Go

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Decluttering my story

indexDecluttering has officially affected every aspect of my life. Even my novel. Recently I’ve culled this beast down to a two-page synopsis, a two-paragraph elevator pitch, and finally a Twitter pitch. Not fun.

I loved writing TIES THAT BIND during National Novel Writing Month. Creating those touching scenes filled with evocative details of time and place was fun. 112K words of fun in fact. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was merely building a stockpile of raw material from which I could (maybe) craft a novel. What I had created was a metaphorical slab of marble. Not a book–yet–just a massive lump of potential.

I should have known this, after all I used to teach a lesson about the writing process, using Play-Doh of all things. Students molded and mashed, pulled and pinched the dough until they knew what it could do. And what it couldn’t. Only then did they try to turn it into something recognizable. And only after it was created could they add details—in this case bits of different colored Play-doh. Details don’t stand alone. Descriptive details do not necessarily make a story, whereas relevant details can.

Of course, now I’m doing the opposite. Removing extraneous bits—decluttering the narrative—to reveal what I hope is the novel hidden inside. Like a sculptor, I’m removing the chunks of cold marble that don’t serve my characters’ story arc.

The heart of my story is in there–I hope–buried beneath this beautiful mess.david_head